November 07, 2019

Four Types of Money in Software

In the software business, there are four types of money to be made:

1. Sweat Money – money that requires a shit ton of effort with no certainty that it will pay future dividends.

2. Easy Money – money made with minimum effort and generates comfortable gains.

3. Lazy Money – money you get for free, no effort necessary.

4. FU Money – money that requires a spike in effort and (in return) prints more money in perpetuity.

In 1997, I took on my first W-2 job in middle school as a paperboy. I didn’t make much money and the working conditions were not ideal. Every day (even on Sundays) I would wake up to my 5 AM alarm clock, put on clothes, and walk upstairs to the front porch, where hundreds of newspapers waited for me to wrap them each with a rubber band and deliver them. I made about eight dollars an hour, so it took a long time to accrue enough money to build out my gaming computer. This was the whole point of the job and I dropped it after two years when I met my savings goal.

The paperboy job was Sweat Money. Being a newspaper boy is not hard in theory, but the news takes no days off and to throw papers for 365 days straight before sunrise was brutal. But that Sweat Money, which I used to build my gaming computer, led to doing less exhausting work.

The cool thing about building a gaming computer in 1999 is that everyone and their momma was freaking out about their computer crashing due to the Y2K bug. So, after the word spread that I had built a computer, friends and their parents would hit me up to back up files to a compact disk, reformat computers, etc., and I would charge them a fee for my time. I can’t remember what I would charge but it largely depended on how close of a friend they were to me and ranged from nothing to one hundred and twenty-five a visit.

After year 2000 passed and no computer apocalypse resulted, I’d regularly build a custom computer for a friend and this got me into buying computer parts on eBay. What I liked about buying computer parts online and especially on eBay is I could get parts for low price, mark up the price, and pocket the difference. Although this was pretty good money, I got tired of building computers after school and started to realize I could minimize my human interaction, move computer parts via eBay, and continue to make money.

Between these two activities, building computers and selling parts on eBay, I learned to make Easy Money. This hustle lasted for almost two years before my mom suspected of me selling computer parts illegally online - I wasn’t. All she knew was boxes were being delivered and shipped off to the house with her having no idea what was happening. Mom shutting me down paved the way to Lazy Money.

After a couple years of fixing computers and moving parts, I’d learned about a NetZero ad program that allowed anyone to get paid to click on ad banners. All I had to do is install a piece of software on my computer and it would place a banner ad on my screen. If I clicked on the ad, the software would count my total unique clicks per ad and pay a percentage of the revenue NetZero made to ad-click professionals like me.

I immediately opted into this scheme and I remember getting a check for about twenty-five dollars. It was fascinating when I reflect back. So, I started to think of how I could automate clicking the ads so I didn’t have to physically be present. After a few months of learning how to write code on Windows, I built a program that clicked NetZero ad banners every minute without me being in front of the computer. The result was about a 10x gain and for about a year I brought in two hundred and fifty dollars every month. Lazy Money.

When I reflect on my relationship with money and computers, a couple things stick out. Computers enabled me to make money for less time and effort than being a paperboy. This revelation has played out in my education as a computer scientist and career as a software engineer.

Throughout my journey I have obtained the first three types of money I described at the beginning. Sweat Money as a paperboy, which enabled me to build my first computer. Easy Money from my career tinkering with computers. And lastly Lazy Money from programming.

Most software entrepreneurs don’t do it for financial reward alone, but let’s be real. This is where FU Money comes into play. FU Money would have been if I given my ad-clicking program to a thousand, a million, ten million people and kept some share of their profits. I’ve never achieved this level of money making and I occasionally ask myself why I haven’t. Is it because I’m not risky enough? Is it because the spiked effort for achieving FU Money is so daunting that I am not up for the task? I don’t know the reason. What I do know is that these questions occasionally keep me up at night wondering whether I am destined for a startup career path.

January 25, 2019

2018 in Review - A Year of Helping Others

In 2014, I wrote publicly about my goals. It was the first and last time I did such a thing in the open. But after five years and after recently reflecting on the importance of sharing my struggles and not letting shame win, I wanted to resume writing my goals here as a reminder to myself on what went well and what's next.

Overall, it was a year of some surprise turns and family chaos that turned into personal and financial opportunities.

Investing in a Fix and Flip

Investing in a Fix and Flip

Tamara and I always imagined investing in and flipping a property, but we had no plans until a friend asked us to make a property investment in Chicago. After conversation and discussing with Tamara how much we were willing to lose financially, we made a deal and luckily everything worked out.

None of us knew much about the fix-and-flip process, but we learned together. Every week we would get an email update about the renovation progress and I would ask questions over text to learn a little bit more on how these things work. The email updates gave us an idea of the sequence of steps involved in doing a fix and flip, so if we ever want to do one ourselves we now have a reference point.

We set a savings goal for 2018, and we worried a real estate investment conducted by novices wouldn’t help us meet that goal. But not only did the work involved in the fix-and-flip make us feel more confident in remodeling a home, we also made about 40% return. We glad we could help and learn something along the way.

Becoming Landlords

We moved out of our first home last March because my mom, sister, and her two kids had moved in with us. It was great for about a month, but then the realities of living with my wife, daughter, mom, niece, and older sister sunk in and I needed an out that didn’t involve a bar and a bottle of beer. So, Tamara and I thought it was a perfect time to move out of our house to explore different neighborhoods so my mom and sister could have an affordable place to live.

We didn’t plan in 2018 to become landlords, but it was yet another thought we’ve had for some time and, even though it happened sooner than expected, we lucked out that our first tenants are family. We also got a chance to try out a neighborhood to get to know the education system and the people in the area before purchasing our next home.

Visiting Cuba

Visiting Cuba

Visiting Cuba

Visiting Cuba

Another random thing that came up in 2018 was a couples trip to Cuba. Just like the real estate investment and moving out of our home, going to Cuba was never on our radar. Our friends had an interest in visiting Cuba before the U.S. does something silly, so we were like why not.

You can read more about tips I wrote shortly after the trip and checkout our Cuba attractions doc.

Helping Sister Transition

My younger sister left the military last December. We respect her decision and are happy that she served our country for four years, but like any person getting out of the military she needed support. So, Tam and I agreed to let her stay with us at our new crib.

Though her presence was another helping hand in our chaotic year, it became an opportunity to reconnect and spend precious time together.

Buying a Fixer Upper

Buying a Fixer Upper

To close out 2018, Tamara and I purchased a fixer upper just to make going into 2019 more interesting. We started out cruising neighborhoods trying to decide if we could see ourselves in different parts of Denver. The house we purchased was home to an older couple who passed within the past two years. Their kids became responsible for selling their parents’ estate. We were lucky to get the home beating out ten other offers. After we closed, we learned that the family that grown up there themselves wanted a growing family to live in the home, which gave us an edge over the highest bidders.

Goals for 2019

  1. Write 12 Blog posts. This is the year I commit to my personal blog with the goal of increasing my understanding on software/systems/life/startups, getting over my fears, reaching the right people, and standing out.
  2. Renovate new home. This one is a gimmy. We need a place to lay our head this year and to do that, we need our house to become a home.
  3. Launch a new software product. There’s so much you can learn just by launching a product and this year, I’d like to do this in a major way.
  4. Complete Activity Rings every single day. Apple Watches cost too much money not to use them for what they’re worth. And it's amazing for promoting a healthy lifestyle. So, this will be my measuring stick for how I’m doing with staying healthy.
  5. 5 3-day weekend trips to different parts of Colorado. Tamara and I have always wanted to spend more time in the mountainous parts of Colorado. Given we’re renovating our next home for better part of the year, we have an opportunity to roam Colorado.
  6. Get daughter reading at a first grade level. This is a stretch goal and I think it's attainable with consistent effort to read to her and practice writing.
  7. Start a meetup for tech black nerds. Colorado lacks a online resource for blacks in tech who are considering Colorado as a place to live. I’d like to create a group that does three high-level things: helps connect locals, offers learning opportunities, and helps black nerds grow professionally. This is already in the works.
  8. Become more effective with my time. Despite having small wins in 2018, I don’t feel like my output was nearly as high as it could be. One of my goals is to use my time better and create more in 2019.
August 08, 2018

Start everyday with a win

During his #OneTeam keynote, Jack stood in front of a 3,500 person crowd and gave this advice: start everyday with a win.

To Jack this meant three things:

  1. Drink water + pink salt + lemon (the research)
  2. Get sun for 20 minutes
  3. Move

Maybe those three things help you win the day, but it is likely that they don’t and that’s fine. The point Jack was making is you should win the day before work, family, and others agenda override your own. The day is won before it gets started when you do.

As Jack was giving his keynote, I wrote some notes down that broke down what it means to start everyday with a win. The advice was too good to not share.

Start

Maybe its a morning ritual or maybe its a three or less list of tasks prepped the night before that you want to accomplish before lunch. Your win is configurable and must be ready to go, so you can purposefully start and do it everyday.

Everyday

Self-regulating is hard and requires a high frequency that makes winning into a habit. And that is why a win ritual requires you to rise, grind, shine, and do it again every f’n single day.

Win

You’ll know you’ve won when you accomplished what you set out for the day. Its the feeling you get when you end the day wanting a nice meal or a glass of wine. It’s the buzz you receive when you workout, meditate, or achieve inbox zero. The day is your oyster after a win.

So, take Jack's advice and start everyday with a win. And give salt juice a try.

July 15, 2018

On Cuba

Photo

One reason I like to travel is to regain perspective on what matters back home. Our visit to Cuba in May did just that and reminded me that traveling to countries that are culturally, economically and socially, different than America is good for the soul.

I recommend you visit Cuba. If not to refresh your perspective, go to support the Cuban people. When we arrived we took a local taxi to our AirBnB in Havana, ate at private Cuban-owned (not the Government) restaurants, and experienced Cuba through the lens of everyday people.

During our visit, we compiled a list of advice we’d come back with to make the trip a tad more relaxing. After visiting four different cities with no internet and a fixed amount of cash, we learned that the embargo makes visiting Cuba difficult. For example, you can’t withdraw money from an ATM or get money from a bank without having cash on hand before arriving. However, less so after Obama administration relaxed restrictions to visit Cuba. So, I thought I’d share advice you can take before going to Cuba. If you want to get details on our itinerary throughout the trip, feel free to DM me on Twitter or comment below and I’ll tell you all about it.

Here’s my advice in summary:

  1. Learn Spanish
  2. Bring 100 euros per day per person
  3. Lodge at AirBnB spots
  4. Download Google Trips
  5. Bring snacks

Learn Spanish

Spanish is the primary language and you’d do yourself a favor by speaking the native language. Tamara and I were fortunate to have a friend (Lindsey) who spoke fluent Spanish, but we were hugely handicapped by not spending more time beefing up our Spanish.

Bring $100 euros per day per person

I read somewhere that $100 per day per person is a good amount if you do not plan to purchase a bunch of merchandise to bring back. After spending 12 days in Cuba, this number sounds about right. We brought $1,500 total for two people and barely got by. However, our trip included long tax commutes to other cities in Cuba. You may be asking how come we didn’t just stop by an ATM and get more money. Well, the embargo doesn’t allow us to do that simply. So, your stuck with the money you bring.

That said, you should bring Euros before you arrive in Cuba if your traveling from America. You get more CUC for your euro that way.

Lodge at AirBnB spots

AirBnB powered our Cuba trip. A big part of our trip was planned around the service we got from our hosts. For example, we booked taxis to other cities through our host, got directions when we weren’t close by public internet, and had breakfast and dinner prepared by our hosts. The advice here is to take advantage of the host’s hospitality and concierge service.

Download Google Trips

The internet is sparse in Cuba. However, we realized how true this was when we got there. Our first AirBnB had a router but the internet didn’t work and it wouldn’t have worked without an Internet card. You buy Internet cards from Etecsa and they have a time limit to how long you can be on the Internet. Your best bet is to pick up a 5-hour Internet Card. However, one problem we found is that your session doesn’t close when you disconnect from the internet, so you end up wasting time. It’s really sucky, so that is why you should download Google Trips.

Google Trips stores your itinerary on your phone so you can reference it offline. It also is able to triangulate your location without a network connection, suggest places to see and eat, and provide a map with info of places around you. We used this quite a bit to discover the city beyond the research we did before visiting.

So, download Google Trips and set it up before your trip.

Bring Snacks

Cuba food is great, but sometimes you want a snack. Snacks are a huge industry in America but its virtually non-existent in Cuba. So, my advice here is to pack snacks that you can have on foot or when your next meal is a few hours out.

March 26, 2018

You Belong in Tech

Once a year, tech companies from all over come together to hire black engineers. This year the event took place last week in Pittsburgh, PA. Companies from different industries set up booths and the students come by the booths learning about what it is like to work in a tech company. College and Universities that offer graduate programs also set up booths to recruit these students to attend their schools and major in engineering, not limited to computer science.

Photo

This event is called the National Society of Black Engineers Conference. I had the opportunity of helping recruit high potential candidates to Twitter and enjoyed every bit of it. If you’re not familiar with NSBE, here’s their mission:

NSBE’s mission is to increase the number of culturally responsible Black Engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally and positively impact the community.

I spoke to about ~30 engineers during my time at the booth. There were 3,700 black engineers in attendance and about 12% were computer science/engineering majors. Having been a former NSBE member and CS student, there were far more companies represented at this conference than 10+ years ago. So, I was happy to see that companies are taking diversity serious.

Twitter’s message was short and simple: You Belong in Tech. It was short enough to put on a t-shirt and we wore them the first day of the conference. This message resonated with me because I remember being one of two African Americans in my schools Computer Science program. Everyone needs the opportunity to learn new ways of learning, creating, and earning a living in America. And that’s why it’s important for tech companies both small and large to show up and let black engineers know they belong.

So if your company is serious about building a diverse pipeline, you should attend NSBE conference next year and hire black engineers. Twitter will meet you there.